Stripperoke is a gender-inclusive, body-positive, sex and sex-worker positive party that’s about to show at the Grahamstown Arts Festival 2018. It’s organised by a group of queer women and sex workers and aims to be a truly intersectional space. Here’s what it takes to host a party with zero tolerance for whorephobia, homophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, body-shaming, slut-shaming and transmisogyny.
Running alongside many queer PoC safe spaces in Cape Town, Stripperoke hosts an event in which audience members sing karaoke songs while a team of professional strippers, pole and burlesque dancers, twerkers, and drag artists perform. ‘You sing, we dance!’ However, maintaining an intersectional safe space is not without its challenges:
The phrase Hoe is Life gets tossed around when we speak about women’s sexual expression and agency. But what happens when the stakes become real and we look at the issues of sex worker rights, criminalisation, stigma, and the despicable ‘outing’ of sex workers on social media? There are very few safe spaces for sex workers to inhabit. Stripperoke founding member and performer Allie (they/them) says, ‘Stripperoke is doable in the way that sex work is doable. We are marginalised, and there are constraints.’
Here are some of the complexities and some of the joys at play in hosting this space:
Everyone wants to be a stripper
Most people have a stripper somewhere deep inside them. And given a safe enough space (such as a bedroom, a comfortable relationship, or inebriated with friends at a bachelorette party) some may even unleash theirs. The stigma and danger surrounding it publicly and professionally has left many contradictions. The idea that manifested at Stripperoke is this: what if you could be a stripper in a safe, intersectional environment where your body and sexuality is celebrated, validated and revered, rather than dehumanised?
Choosing the space is important
While sexual violence happens across contexts, an overwhelming reality is this: ‘Having big groups of cis-het men together is the worst thing for anyone’s safety. The switch in people’s brains flip off and they completely dehumanise us. Sexual violence isn’t seen the same way; it’s considered “what you do”’, Allie explains. What’s more dangerous than hordes of straight men? Hordes of straight men around people they don’t consider to be people – like strippers and sex workers. As such, Stripperoke’s community is integral to its survival. Stripperoke performs in a gay club called Zer021 in Cape Town, a queer space.
But, predators are everywhere
The reality is that no ‘safe’ space is entirely safe. Sexual violence does happen in queer spaces. Sexual violence even happens in so-called ‘safe’ spaces. And, sexual violence happens among radicals. There’s no such thing as a totally safe space. Humans and spaces are only ever more or less safe. The unspoken argument for most safe spaces is this: relatively-speaking it’s still safer than most other spaces. But this isn’t good enough.
Micro-aggressions are hard to monitor; assault happens among peers; people have trauma histories and trigger minefields. Predatory behaviours and incidents have been witnessed and dealt with within the Stripperoke space, making it clear that there’s no magic door through which to escape violent people and violence in people. There’s only the perpetual effort to improve ourselves, each other and our spaces. Hosting a safe space requires being dynamic, self-reflective and circumspect as a collective. It requires you to make time for the activism behind the activism.
Emotional labour and space politics
Arguably, the most important thing about hosting a safe, intersectional space is for all bodies to be valid and protected. This speaks to both accessibility and exclusivity. And both present their own difficulties. Accessibility to students who cannot afford to pay full entry, wheelchair accessibility, accessibility to those who have to travel far. Exclusivity from sexists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, predators and the like. Most ‘safe’, affordable venues in Cape Town do not cater to all of these. And this is where hosting a safe and intersectional space becomes challenging. Lastly, the team’s emotional labour, physical safety and compensation (in this case, as working dancers). Ideally, none of these factors should slip, not in a truly intersectional space. But realistically, there’s often a push and pull.
A word from the dancers
‘I like the space it provides for Queers and PoC. The energy it gives. Also, really important is that it has really critical politics that are put into action through solidarity with the most marginalised, more specifically, sex workers.’ – Shiraz (they/them).
‘I swing on the pole in stripper heels and hot-shorts while embodying the karaoke song of your desires.’ – Ryan (he/him).
‘The organisation is non-hierarchical and is centered on the workers. There is no boss making a profit off others’ sweat.’ – Amantha (she/her)
‘Everyone is so commited to their craft and so welcoming, and always encouraging the next person.’ – Fifi Von Cunt
‘At the last event, I tried eating gatsby in front of our paying audience to make myself feel better, and it didn’t fix all of my problems. OH MY GOD I’m beyond help. The people behind STRIPPEROKE are so radical and compassionate and queer, and they have good goals and sexy politics.’ – Gatsby Slut / Codi (he/they)
What is art and what is smut?
Stripperoke is going to the prestigious Grahamstown Arts Festival – a place that prides itself on being one of the most experimental and avante-garde of all performance art festivals in South Africa. But how will they respond to this: What is art and what is smut? What does it mean to make respectable art? Are strippers artists?
Street-based daytime action: Friday 29 June
Club performance event: Sunday 1 July at 37 on New from 2pm
R80 entrance at the door (with a limited number of full and half comps available for financially struggling queer peeps and sex workers. DM Stripperoke in advance to chat)
All photos by Elijah Ndoumbé (IG: @elijahndoumbe)
Poster art by Lambi Chibambo (IG: @lamboglemila)